WELCOME TO THE WILD, WILD WEST
Clad in boiler suit and matching paper “shoes”, I half expected to be walking onto the set of Breaking Bad, but instead, I was led into the oldest surviving room of the Palace of Whitehall to frolic on the world’s largest beanbag. As ever, when it comes to London Fashion Week and their peripheral events, there is method to the madness.
[Anya Hindmarch’s “Chubby Collection”, the Chubby Cube ]
Delightfully named “Chubby Cloud”, this experiential installation is the brainchild of notorious British designer Anya Hindmarch – of “I’m NOT a plastic bag” fame – influenced by the cloud motif in her new Chubby Collection. Filling the floor of The Banqueting House, surrounded by Palladian pillars and under a ceiling painted by Rubens, there could be no more apt a setting; staring up at this heavenly ceiling, thematic chubby cherubs included. With genteel classical music twinkling away in the background, it really did feel as though you were on a cloud. Not that I ever lie down on the job…
With a series of lectures, bedtime stories, choral song, and meditation planned across the weekend of London Fashion Week, this did make for a wonderful setting to listen to a discussion on “Storytelling and Narrative in our Digital Culture”, hosted by new cultural and arts magazine Drug Store Culture, alongside founder and writer of Bitch Lit, Lucy Scholes. Using the cloud as the basis for discussion, Editor-in-Chief Matthew d’Ancona began by dissecting our view of the cloud and how it has changed from representing ideas, stories and imagination, to now being a data-storage solution (still full of ideas, stories, and imagination.)
This shift in thinking, powered by our ever-digital lifestyles, has caused turbulent change in how we view the role of storytelling, and the role narrative plays in our lives. Everything can be more (accessibly) interactive; the use of “you” as reader within a story has been relatively rare, yet second person narratives have become all the more common.
Starting primarily from sandbox video games such as Mine Craft -where you can enter a narrative and control it – or even video games where you go through a story already created for you, this control over your digital environment was the start of the shift in modern storytelling. Ever evolving (as with all technology) we now see an increased usage of virtual reality headsets where, instead of controlling the narrative from afar, VR places you within the narrative. Come across a gory murder scene, you can look away; find yourself in an interesting location, you can look closer. The viewer has the power. The storyteller has lost control.
This control over what narrative you do/n’t want to see is having knock on effects in, for example, politics. This idea of almost competing narratives gives the viewer/reader a sense of ownership, the notion of alternative facts. People will only mostly interact with what they’re comfortable with. Yet there is a dark side to the cloud, the Wild West of modern-age story-telling, controlled by tech giants and their monopoly over narrative exposure; to an extent, they can’t control the narratives we upload, the stories we are creating around our own lives (à la Instagram Stories and Facebook status updates), nor can they control what we read. It’s up to you who you think the Cowboys are.
As Pete Hoskin (Deputy-Editor) pointed out, we now have a “buffet of realities to choose from”, from the overtly-filtered Instagram posts to the opinions of Twitter Trolls, and it could be said that technology has weaponised these narratives resulting in, for example, the publication of Trump’s favourite: Fake News.
In this sense, storytelling and narrative have changed beyond recognition. The traditional novel, the traditional role of the author has lost power to social media where everyone is the author of their own story to some degree. No more are skilled wordsmiths urged to entertain around the campfire, and as Scholes pointed out, “we are now in a Golden Age of storytelling”: everyone can do it, and reach is global. Social media is the new campfire, and with the opportunity to dive in and out of conversations on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, we’re all hecklers and hijackers of these narratives too. (Bear with me.)
That each of us to an extent are creating our own narratives, mostly centred on our lives (or the lives we are portraying), have we lost the art of true storytelling, storytelling in the digital age now taking on a whole new social function?
As I lay back and pondered such philosophical thoughts while floating on this cloud I looked around and saw a forest of phones, each with Instagram or Facebook open to document the moment, no doubt each writing their own fictions of the day. Mine? That I was being paid to lie down on the job.